It wasn’t the steam-rolling best-picture frontrunner “The Shape of Water” that claimed the Writers Guild of America’s original screenplay prize in the absence of the ineligible “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” Sunday night. It was Jordan Peele’s immensely popular horror satire “Get Out.”
Peele’s work has been the all-around screenplay champ on the critics’ awards circuit this year and may well be where the smart money lies for the original screenplay Oscar, if divisiveness over Martin McDonagh’s “Three Billboards” eats into the British-Irish scribe’s potential there. But in these results there is a notable echo of last season, where the only roadblock for “La La Land” came at the WGA Awards when “Moonlight” — categorized as an original screenplay by the guild, yet adapted by the Academy’s writers branch — upset the perceived best-picture frontrunner.
Does a WGA victory mean “Get Out” has the reserves to shock the world as the Academy’s best picture winner on Oscar night? Of course not. That would be a simplification. But it’s worth pondering. It could also simply mean there is an obvious choice for screenplay honors this year and everything is tracking.
Either way, best picture glory remains up for grabs this season. If “The Shape of Water” was the runaway winner, would it have hit a speed bump Sunday? After all, the last film to win best picture after losing the WGA prize (when eligible) was “Million Dollar Baby,” and that was a contender that found its momentum late in the game.
The adapted category is, somewhat mercifully, much more cut-and-dried going into the final weeks of the season. James Ivory won the WGA honor for “Call Me by Your Name,” 24 hours after claiming the USC Libraries Scripter Award for adaptations. Historically, that tandem has been virtually unbeatable.
The full list of WGA winners also included documentary “Jane,” Scripter winner “The Handmaid’s Tale” and HBO’s “Big Little Lies,” among others.
Final Oscar ballots go out to Academy voters on Tuesday, Feb. 20.